Chapter 1: Discovering, Questioning, Talking and Imagining: Writing NonFiction

1.4 Next Steps

Our district was unable to sustain the cost of instructional coaches, so our work together as a learning team came to an end that year.  As I think back now on those three years, here’s what I think we accomplished during those monthly teacher professional development classes.  I helped teachers get over some of strong negative emotions associated with writing.  Mostly this came about because of the ease they felt with using a writing notebook.  Having teachers willing to share their writing was the next big step. They learned that sharing writing with a supportive audience brought with it a sense of accomplishment and a feeling that their writing was appreciated.  Teachers experienced first-hand the process of choosing a topic and turning that topic into a finished piece of writing.  Together we learned the power of mentor texts as models for presenting information in ways that inform as well as entertain.  We started to demonstrate and model using a writer’s notebook in our classrooms as a way to capture seed ideas for our writing projects.  We began the study of nonfiction writer’s craft around the books we chose for read-aloud.  Most importantly, teachers stood before their students as “people who write”, who write to discover, to remember, to create pieces of writing that move readers.

Where would I want to go next in my work with teachers?  I’ve always wanted to learn to become a better artist, to at least acquire a passable skill at figurative drawing and perspective.  I’ve long felt that visual elements play a significant role in the composition of the kinds of books children write.  So this is one area that awaits fruitful exploration for many teachers: the role of drawing and illustrating in the composition process.  We know that many young children come to writing through storytelling and drawing. Somehow in the narrowing but necessary process of beginning to acquire alphabetic literacy, these supportive elements, story and drawing, get pushed into subordinate roles, in spite of the evidence that they are equally important in the development of composition. Fortunately teachers and other practitioners have tried to address this important need. For example, Martha Horn and Mary Ellen Giacobbe in their book Talking, Drawing, Writing – Lessons for Our Youngest Writers (2007) have shown how to return drawing to the composition process for the early grades. Beth Olshansky, in her book The Power of Pictures: Creating Pathways to Literacy through Art, Grades K-6 and in her image-making workshops, has found a way to make visual elements equal to the verbal in a workshop setting, so that we now can talk about an Art / Writing Workshop.   I am looking forward to creating my new identity as a writer / artist.

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